In the wild, turkeys spend most of their day on the ground foraging for food. Since they are so large and heavy, they are not great flyers. With this in mind, it’s natural to wonder where turkeys sleep. On the ground, they are highly vulnerable to predators, but since they can’t fly well, they probably can’t rest in trees, right?

Actually, like most birds, turkeys do sleep in trees! While they are not that good at flying, they’re good enough that they can fly 20–30 feet up to branches in trees, where they roost at night and are safe and sound from most predators.

Let’s take a deeper look at the sleeping habits of turkeys.


Wild turkeys sleep in trees

Despite spending most of their time on the ground, foraging for food, all turkeys sleep in trees at night to keep safe from predators. Turkeys have poor night vision, so trees offer a safe place for them to sleep when it’s dark. Turkeys change their sleeping spots throughout the year, depending on the weather, availability of food, and leaf coverage in the tree. Leaves can help keep them sheltered from the wind and protected from cold.

There is one exception, though. A nesting female will sit on a clutch of eggs for up to 28 days, so she sleeps in nests on the ground. After the poults have hatched, she will need to wait another 2 weeks or so before her young are old enough to be able to fly and nest in trees with her. During this time, hens are vulnerable to predators, and for this reason, they have a shorter average life expectancy than males in the wild.

While young poults can only fly and thus roost in trees after about 14–30 days, they do typically leave their nest after 24 hours or so. During this time, they sleep on the ground under their mother’s wings, where they are generally safe from predators and can keep warm during cold nights. Even once they’re old enough to sleep in trees, they still continue this habit of sleeping under their mother’s wings.

turkey in the tree
Image Credit: Pixabay

What about domesticated turkeys?

In captivity, turkeys typically sleep in specially made brooders indoors if there is the threat of predators or cold weather, although they’d prefer to sleep outside in trees. In areas where there are few predators and trees for them to sleep in, turkeys will be far happier sleeping in trees like they would naturally in the wild, although this is not necessary.

Of course, many domestic turkeys are generally larger and heavier than wild turkeys and cannot fly as well as their wild counterparts, so they need to sleep indoors in brooder enclosures.

turkey sleeping
Image Credit: Tommy Pavasut, Shutterstock

What kind of trees do turkeys roost in?

Turkeys prefer to sleep in isolated trees near open areas where they can land and forage. Since they are so large and not good at flying, they cannot live in densely wooded areas where they can easily get injured. They typically roost in branches 20–30 feet above the ground, with few branches underneath to help keep them safe from climbing predators like foxes or large cats. Their preferred trees are usually oaks, cottonwoods, and sycamores, but they do not generally sleep in the same tree every night and tend to move around throughout the year depending on food availability and the weather.


Final Thoughts

In the wild, turkeys sleep 20–30 feet up in trees to keep themselves safe from predators. Only nesting mothers sitting on eggs or looking after poults sleep on the ground, which usually lasts for 1–2 months before their poults learn to fly and can join their mothers in the trees. In captivity, turkeys generally sleep in brooders because they don’t have the threat of predators and are larger and heavier, limiting their flying ability.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay